Waterford Ireland – Exploring Ireland’s Ancient East
Waterford – An Irish Town with a Viking History
Waterford Ireland is the country’s oldest city, founded in 914 A.D. after the arrival of the Vikings. The history of this ancient port is maintained in its many remarkable buildings around the city and it’s Viking Triangle.
Wherever you go in Waterford, you will stumble on the Viking heritage. The Norsemen started to attack Ireland in the 8th century, starting with small bands of 3-4 boats that would arrive, raid, and immediately go back to Norway with their loot.
‘Bitter is the wind tonight
It tosses the ocean’s white hair
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish sea‘
by Anonymous Monk
Over time, the Vikings “optimized” their strategy. They came with dozens of boats, set up camp and only left after extensively raiding the entire area. In Waterford, they took it to the next level by setting up a permanent settlement, the first town in Ireland. Before that, the locals lived a nomadic lifestyle, following their livestock across Southern Ireland. Eventually, the Vikings would settle down and stop raiding. They formed alliances with Irish Lords and turned their focus from looting and killing to trading.
While the Viking influence on Waterford is visible everywhere, it is now a thriving, modern seaport city on the Suir river. As the capital of Ireland’s Sunny South East, Waterford draws domestic and foreign tourists alike but has so far been able to keep its traditional Irish charm.
Things to do in Waterford Ireland
Waterford City Tour:
I highly recommend a walking tour in Waterford, as its history is fascinating and it will give you a better understanding of the Viking influence, but also many other tidbits of information about the city and region.
The Waterford Crystal company is renown around the world for the high-quality crystal it produces. If you have time, take a tour and learn how crystal is made, what the engravers do their work and maybe even try your hand at carving the delicate patterns. Factory Tour Tickets
The Waterford Museum gives you a great insight into the city’s interesting history, its Viking heritage, and the way of life in earlier days. Museum Tickets
This is a really cool Virtual Reality experience. You’ll get seated in a “Viking house” and receive VR Goggles, then the story takes you back to the early days of the Viking settlement in Waterford. It is a little gruesome, so I would not recommend it for small children.
A beautiful house with lots of exhibits, mainly from the 17th and 18th century. Bishops Palace Tickets
If you want to get out and exercise a little, the Waterford Greenway is a nice 46 km (~30 mi) track to enjoy the Irish countryside by bike. It follows old railroad tracks and is mostly flat. It goes past Mount Congreve, so that would be a great stop to take a rest and enjoy this beautiful estate.
This stately property consists of 70 acres of gardens, from abundant vegetable and fruit gardens to manicured lawns, a greenhouse to dense green forests with hidden treasures. You could spend hours wandering the lush gardens.
Hotels in Waterford Ireland
Waterford is quite a popular destination in Ireland, so make sure you book your hotel in advance, especially if you travel in June-August or around major holidays. We stayed at the Dooley’s Hotel, right on the river. From there, you can walk to all the attractions in the city and explore the pubs in the area. We had dinner there on our arrival night and it was delicious and the pub has live music if you don’t want to stray too far.
Where to Eat in Waterford
As I mentioned, we had dinner at our hotel, the Dooley’s Hotel. The food as outstanding and the service on top of their game. Usually, hotel restaurants not my first choice, but the one at Dooley’s really convinced me and I can highly recommend it.
For lunch, we headed to The Reg aka Reginald’s Tower. This pub is a must-see. 5 different barrooms, all with a unique style and feel are built along the 900-year-old city walls, from a traditional pub with Irish music to an elegant wine bar, and even a nightclub (Friday and Saturday only), you’ll find a spot that speaks to you. The food at the Reg was delicious as well. I had some of the best oysters and lamb shank there, washed down with a pint of self-draft Guinness.
Day Trips from Waterford in Southern Ireland
A great outing for families and adventure lovers is the Dunmore East Adventure Centre. They offer kayaking and paddle boarding tours, a jumping castle on the water, rock climbing and lots of other cool things that will get your adrenaline going. Afterward, head to The Strand, either to spend the night or for some fantastic food and a beautiful view.
Cliffwalk and Lunch/Dinner at The Cliffhouse Hotel
This lighthouse was built 800 years ago and is the oldest fully operational lighthouse in the world. Take a tour and enjoy the view from the top overlooking the cliffs. Get your Tickets for Hook Lighthouse here.
Enniscorthy is a cute little town that is worth a day trip. If you have seen the movie “Brooklyn”, you might see a lot of familiar places. I highly recommend a Heritage Tour and a visit to Enniscorthy Castle, which also has an exhibit about the filming of Brooklyn.
If you are interested in trying some delicious Craft Beers in Ireland, head to Dungarvan Brewing Company and then Dinner (or maybe spend the night, depending on how successful your beer tasting was) at Park Hotel Dungarvan.
Wexford is another must if you are on the Southern Coast of Ireland: I highly recommend the Dunbrody Famine Ship, which showcases the story of the Irish emigrants to the New World. The museum is nice, but what gives this experience a special touch is the live-enactment. During your tour, you’ll get to meet two passengers of the Dunbrody, one from first class, and one from the lower decks. Whether you have any Irish blood in you or not, the Dunbrody museum and ship is a must.
Another highlight of Wexford is the Irish National Heritage Park. The Open Air Museum takes you from pre-historic times to the Viking invasion and is great for families and history buffs, who want to experience how life was like back then. You can even book one of the replica huts to sleep in, and if that is a little too much for you and you are traveling in a group, I highly recommend to book a traditional dinner.
Southern Ireland has a lot to offer, but not many tourists end up along the southern shore. You can easily spend 7-10 days just exploring the Southern Coast and Waterford is the ideal home base to do day trips from. So if you are looking for a destination in Ireland, that has a lot of great stuff to do, Waterford might be your ideal spot to add to your Ireland itinerary.
Disclosure: I was invited on this trip by Tourism Ireland. However, I am trying to be as objective as possible and my opinions are my own!